The level of global inequality is ‘morally repulsive’
Rowan Williams: “We have stopped asking what wealth is for”
As the global elite meet in Davos this week Christian Aid has released a new report which draws on the agency’s decades of experience in development work to offer a critique of the idea that pursuing increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the best way of relieving poverty.
One of the report authors, Sue Richardson, said: “The elite debate at Davos has been beset by quibbles over whether this or that policy increases or lessens inequality, while missing the most important point: this level of global inequality is morally repulsive. Extremes of inequality have very real human consequences for billions of people and the relationships between them that would be evidently unacceptable if they were not clothed in the jargon of economics.
“This report casts a critical light on the decades-long experiment in using measurement of GDP and other economic indicators as a proxy for human wellbeing. We conclude that this experiment has failed.”
The report, ‘An Unquenchable Thirst for More: faith and economic growth, argues that the narrow measurement of GDP encourages the nations of the global south to adopt a development path that makes very small adjustments to the well-being of the very poor, but increases the prosperity of the already wealthy and makes huge demands on the environment. In the global north it encourages populations into debt and excessive consumerism which research shows does not significantly increase the experience of happiness and burdens our planet with waste.
Using experience in India, Brazil and Ghana the authors of the report examine three possible responses to this dilemma: 1) a reformed way of doing business; 2) the decoupling of our use of resources from our consumption through technological innovation and reduced energy and resource use, and 3) the reshaping and refocussing of our economics with different ways of measuring success and different goals.
In his forward to the report, Christian Aid Chair, Dr Rowan Williams says: “We have stopped asking what wealth is for. Lacking a coherent picture of what a good human life looks like, we have filled the gap with quantified measures that tell us little or nothing about how far flesh-and-blood human beings are flourishing in all aspects of their experience.
“For Christians, in particular, this is a serious failure: we are in danger of not thinking about what is involved in our belief that we are made in God’s image, made for creative engagement in the lives of others that will build them up as they build us up. Wealth is instrumental to this, never an end-in-itself.”
The report also examines how market systems can work to benefit the poor and looks at how Christian Aid works with the private sector to encourage inclusive business practice and generate enterprising local markets. It also explores the work of Christian Aid’s Salt Business Network, a group of Christian business leaders that acknowledge the world is more connected than it has ever been and that every UK business, big or small, has the power to transform lives, both near and far.
Sue Richardson added that the church had a key role to play in challenging today’s inequality: “For followers of Jesus, there is little to debate about wealth and poverty. Jesus’ parables are littered with tales of the injustice of financial inequality. He famously blessed the poor and was scathing about the rich. Churches must re-ignite the conversation about what can be done, and take action on real solutions.”